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Against the Ice movie review: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau serves up survival thrills in this tolerable movie

Against the Ice movie review: For the lovers of survival dramas, there is quite a bit to like here. The cinematography, performances, pacing, and nearly everything else is competent. But that's all the film is: competent.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Written by Kshitij Rawat | New Delhi |
Updated: March 6, 2022 8:55:33 am
Against the Ice review, Against the IceAgainst the Ice movie review: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau shines in this okay survival thriller. (Photo: Netflix)

Against the Ice movie director: Peter Flinth
Against the Ice movie cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Joe Cole, Charles Dance, and Heida Reed
Against the Ice movie rating: 2 stars

It’s the early 20th century. Cartography is still in a primitive stage, and mapping hitherto uncharted lands is a laborious and often dangerous undertaking, particularly in the polar regions, which were then the theatres of geopolitical rivalry between western powers. Explorers and adventurers ventured into the remotest parts of the world and claimed the land for their governments and got awarded in return.

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Netflix’s historical survival drama Against the Ice, directed by Peter Flinth, is set in that context. While it is not interested in geopolitical conflict, it stays in the backdrop and affects the actions of its protagonists.

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The story is about a real follow-up Danish expedition to Greenland, led by explorer Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). The purpose of Mikkelsen’s expedition was to recover the bodies of the explorers of an earlier expedition, called simply Denmark Expedition, and recover possible evidence (records, journals, maps, and so forth) that would invalidate the US’ claim on Greenland.

When Mikkelsen and his ship’s crew were stranded in frozen water, he asks for a volunteer among his men to accompany him on the journey ahead. None of them do, their opinion coloured by the fact that Mikkelsen is overzealous about the mission, and would rather give his life than go back without success. To be fair to him, that was exactly the ask for brave, patriotic men in service of their country.

In the frozen wastes that most of Greenland is, it is not just the cold that kills, though that is usually enough, for many a well-equipped expedition has disappeared without trace for centuries. An explorer also has to content with the largest land carnivore, the polar bear, for whom a human being is an appallingly easy prey.

Against the Ice Against the Ice is a beautiful film to look at. (Photo: Netflix)

A greenhorn called Iver Iverson (Joe Cole), who isn’t even a permanent part of the crew, finally volunteers, having read about Mikkelsen and his exploits in the Arctic region. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, a milksop, and blissfully unaware what his idol is really asking for — his life.

But Mikkelsen, a little reluctantly, agrees and they venture into the unknown. So far, so good. As expeditions in polar regions were wont to in those days, this one met with misfortune. After a series of mishaps, all their sled dogs die (canine lovers may wish to avert eyes every now and then), they somehow manage to return to the ship and find it broken down and turned into a hut, and no sign of the crew.

By rights, Against the Ice should have been an engaging tale, but it is half-hearted in nearly every way. The script desperately wants the viewer to vicariously experience hardship in such adverse weather and terrain through its two characters, but we never really see any true suffering beyond the madness and delirium that strikes one of them later on. Even an assault by a fully grown polar bear, which should have grievously injured the victim, is shrugged off as though it were commonplace.

The days pass like seconds, and there’s barely any change in characters’ appearances. Mikkelsen’s beard does get a little ragged but his hair is like he just got a hairdo — no kidding.

In Game of Thrones, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was given one of the show’s most complex characters, who did not subscribe to the Westrosi society’s norms but was essentially a good man. In Against the Ice, Mikkelsen, save for a few moments when we glimpse the man underneath, is your typical grizzled hardy adventurer. Coster-Waldau tries his best to make it work, but it is hard to shake off the feeling that the character could have been so much more in a better script.

Iverson, on the other hand is more believable has a definite, if by-the-numbers character arc, and Cole runs with it. The amateur explorer finds reserves of courage where he thought he had none, and is eventually the saviour of the expedition. Again, this is not something that is terribly original, but at least here the screenwriters (Coster-Waldau and Joe Derrick) have put in the work.

Against the Ice is a standard survival drama film. That does not mean it is bad. In fact, it has a lot to offer and especially for the lovers of survival dramas, there is quite a bit to like here. The cinematography, performances, pacing, and nearly everything else is competent. But that’s all the film is: competent. It rarely rises from above the level of mediocre.

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